Elegy on the Death of César Chávez

By: Rudolfo Anaya
Illustrator: Gaspar Enriquez
Famed Chicano novelist Rudolfo Anaya was greatly influenced by the heroic life of labor and civil rights activist César Chávez. After Chávez’ death in 1993, Anaya wrote this elegy eulogizing the man and his life’s work. Echoing Shelley’s elegy on the death of John Keats, the poem expresses the grief of la gente, but closes by calling all peoples together to continue his non-violent struggle for freedom and justice.


Famed Chicano novelist Rudolfo Anaya was greatly influenced by the heroic life of labor and civil rights activist César Chávez. After Chávez' death in 1993, Anaya wrote this elegy eulogizing the man and his life's work. Echoing Shelley's elegy on the death of John Keats, the poem expresses the grief of la gente, but closes by calling all peoples together to continue his non-violent struggle for freedom and justice. The book, which has been endorsed by the César Chávez Foundation, includes an essay by Anaya detailing the effect that Chávez had on his own vision and a chronology of Chávez' life. Powerful illustrations by Gaspar Enriquez bring home the significance of César Chávez to the American cultural experience.
Each one of us has a role in building the "house of justice." Each one of us must make a commitment to build a better society. Yes, we must organize. We must work together. We must fight against oppression. In this way we honor César and all the good men and women who have struggled to better our lives.—Rudolfo Anaya

Awards and Accomodations

Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
Skipping Stones Honor Book
Latino Literary Hall of Fame, 2000

9 reviews for Elegy on the Death of César Chávez

  1. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers
    This elegy captures the love of farm workers and the Latino community, all who yearn for justice, for this irreplaceable hero. César’s life is the lucero, the light that provides vision to the path, with the glow of energy generated by the struggle. This elegy invites all to march in César’s path, to attain the hope and promise of his legacy—a legacy made simple by César so everyone can participate in the quest for justice. César’s lucero spotlighted the attainable victory, the solution to end the suffering of farm workers, a union, “the farm workers’ house of justice” where those that feed the world can end their suffering and have a final voice over their lives and destinies.

  2. School Library Journal
    This poetic expression of mourning and hope is a heartfelt commentary on history and greatness. Anaya tells about the life of this crusader for justice and how his ideals shaped his life’s work. Chávez’s impact on both the Hispanic community and American society is made manifest by repeated expression of grief and loss, and by the final conclusion that, despite his death, his work goes on. Skillful use of meter and repetition give the text a mesmerizing formality that imparts the gravity of Chávez’s labor and magnitude of his loss. It is perfectly matched by Enriquez’s accomplished mixed-media collages.

    Photographs and watercolor paintings are skillfully combined with handmade-paper backgrounds to produce arresting images. A page of text faces each illustration; each of these pages is ornamented with a small insert from the facing collage along with one line of the text in enlarged typeface, creating a poem within a poem. Comparable to Alma Flor Ada’s Gathering the Sun (Lothrop, 1997) in poetic and artistic power, this fine example of elegiac verse serves both poetry and biography well, while elucidating the struggles of migrant workers in this country.

  3. Stone Soup
    I am a sixth-grader at DePortola Middle School. I had to write a biographical report on Cesar Chavez. I read books on him, but those books were only about facts and chronologies. My history book just had a paragraph about him in it. I learned about the important things he did for farmworkers, but this book helped me understand how people felt about Cesar, that “he lives in the hearts of those who loved him.” —Thomas Arguilez Smith

  4. Booklist
    With a poem modeled on elegies by Shelley and Whitman, Anaya commemorates the passing of respected labor activist Chávez: “This earth he loved so well is dry and mourning / For César has fallen, our morning star has fallen.”

    Gaspar Enriquez’s mural like collages juxtapose significant images, including portraits of adults and children, banners, guns, and grapes, for a running nonverbal commentary on the symbols and events that marked Chávez’s struggle for justice. Using Chávez’s words, “Rise, mi gente, rise!” Anaya exhorts readers to carry on that struggle, then closes with an uplifting biographical afterword and a detailed chronology. Many books chronicle Chávez’s achievements, but this vividly evokes the powerful feelings of love and outrage that he was able to raise in his admirers.

  5. Carlos Santana
    César Chávez’ accomplishments in fighting for the rights of farm workers, civil rights, environmental justice, and non-violence stand next to two of the 20th century’s greatest leaders—Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  6. Multicultural Review
    This is a small book with a very big heart. Writer/activist Anaya has created a cry for people to continue to honor the memory of César Chávez, and a call to all to continue to rise against injustice. “Rise, mi gente, rise,” says the poet. Starting with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Adonis, which is an elegy on the death of poet John Keats, Anaya utilizes his literary skills to weave lines from Shelley’s poem into his own elegy, clearly stating that a famous poet and a human-rights activist farm worker are both equally worthy of elegiac poems. Anaya’s poem also reminds one of García Lorca’s Lament for his friend bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, because, like Lorca, who refuses to accept his friend’s death, la muerte, and curses “the day la muerte came to claim/the light within his noble body.”

    The publication of this book is also very timely because California has just enacted legislation establishing the new César Chávez holiday to be observed in March. Aside from being the most beautiful and meaning homage to Chávez, a man who dedicated his life to the United Farm Workers Union and to empowering and improving the lives of farm workers and the dispossessed, this book, by including a chronology of his life, ensures that future generations will learn about Chávez’s struggle and how deeply he was loved and admired by those around him. Anaya’s wonderful poem is complemented by the work created by artist Gaspar Enriquez, whose illustrations are contemporary, sensitive, and very powerful.

  7. New Mexico Magazine
    Not all legends come to us from the far past—certain contemporary figures and events almost immediately gain mythic status. César Chávez is one such larger-than-life figure who in his quest for social justice ranks with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an American leader. His death inspired noted New Mexican writer Rudolfo Anaya to write an elegy for him, a long poem based in part on the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy for John Keats.

    The result is a beautiful book aimed at grade-school readers. Anaya’s haunting and emotional text is vividly accompanied by illustrations by Gaspar Enriquez, an artist from El Paso. The paintings for the book have the directness of the mural style, with a visionary, almost dreamlike, element. Their bold colors, combined with bits of hyper-realism, are sure to attract young readers.

    A chronology of César Chávez life at the back of the book adds a useful scholastic element. Biographical notes for both author and artist add to the sense that César Chávez is not the only role model to be found in this slim but energetic book.

  8. Booklinks
    Anaya’s passionate tribute to Cesar Chavez’s life and work resonates with love and devotion. Using elegies by Shelley and Whitman as models, Anaya’s poem recounts Chavez’s indefatigable spirit as he labored to organize the campesinos. Numerous Spanish words and phrases, interspersed throughout, and Enriquez’s powerful collages add to the strong emotional tone of this elegy. An afterword provides further information about this revered leader of farmworkers.

  9. Iowa Reading Journal
    This book is an excellent source of information based on the life, accomplishments and impact one person had on a large group of individuals. Readers gain a sense of how important he was to many causes and that one person can make a difference in the lives of others. Not only are the words powerful that are used to describe the author’s feelings, but the collage style illustrations, author’s note and detailed chronology will assist readers in comprehending the life of Cesar Chavez.

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